Barbara Stanwyck in the 1930s was known for her tough girl roles. She was the girl who would stick it straight to the man, smart talk her way through anything with her fabulous New York accent, and just give one look that would make men run for cover. But of course once the code started to be enforced the toughness in Stanwyck’s characters had to be softened and most importantly she had to now pay for her sins and learn a lesson. His Brother’s Wife is one of Stanwyck’s post-code melodramas where she does get punished but this time there is a happy ending.
Chris Claybourne (Robert Taylor) is a young playboy doctor (like much of his roles around this time). His father and brother Tom are also doctors. While his father and Tom are serious about their profession Chris likes nothing better to do than go out and have a good time. One of the things he likes to do most is gamble which has left his family in a financial strain. Chris’s only salvation from not getting arrested from a rubber check is to head down to South America where he is set up to help find a cure for spotted fever from ticks.
At his usual gambling nightclub Chris meets Rita (Stanwyck). Rita also frequents the nightclub. She is a shop girl so she plays to earn a little more money. The head of the nightclub Fish- Eye (Caesar Romero) wants Rita to work for him but she passes she does not want anything he has to do with. After she walks out of Fish-Eye’s office Rita comes across Chris at a table. She sits with him and the two hit it off right away. They try not to fall in love and just be friends since he is going away for so long in two weeks time.
For the two weeks Chris and Rita are inseparable. On the last night they break down and confess that they really do love each other. Chris tells her he will marry her and that he will not go to South America. Unfortunately Tom has a talk with Chris about him marrying Rita and she is left with heartbreak.
In the jungle Chris has a hard time with how long it is taking to find a cure for the fever. Frustrated he returns home for Christmas. He comes home to find that Tom has married Rita after they met at the nightclub. Tom says that for all he knows Rita could be around the world has no idea where she is. He also says that after they were married she laughed and got out of the car. Rita just married him to spite Chris. Tom refuses to give her a divorce because she got to him she is in his blood and he cannot get her out. Rita has been working in the nightclub so she could pay Chris’s debt off since she still loves him. Chris still loves her as well but he is angry.
Making it seem as if he is helping her and really does love her Chris bring Rita with him to South America. The two hope with every boat that there will be a letter from Tom saying he will give her the divorce. The letter does come but Chris gets back at Rita telling her to leave he helped her but he does not love her anymore. Rita is upset because she knows he is only doing this since he is tired and frustrated.
The country where Chris and another doctor have been working on the serum does not want them testing the serum on their people thinking that because one man died after he was given the serum when he was already weak from being sick that the serum is bad. Chris plans on injecting himself with the fever to see if the serum works. Rita does not want him to possibly kill himself so she injects herself with the fever.
As I said at the beginning the ending is all sunshine and roses and happy.
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor met on this film and not long after were married. They were married for sixteen years and remained friends afterwards. You can see the chemistry between them. The looks of love and longing on Stanwyck and Taylor’s faces are so genuine. Both of them were such fantastic actors.
My Brother’s Wife was a bit schizophrenic. It felt like the story did not know whether it wanted to be a good romantic comedy for a straight up melodrama. A reviewer wrote perfectly that the film “takes pieces of Magnificent Obsession, Arrowsmith, with a dash of The Rains Came and mixes it together for a hand wringing melodrama.” Now I have seen Arrowsmith and The Rains Came and I can tell you all who was missing from My Brother’s Wife was Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power, Helen Hayes, and Ronald Coleman otherwise it would have been the same film as the other two. I would have loved to have seen Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor make a romantic comedy they were so great with that at the beginning.
Whatever you do do not let the reviewers on IMDB dismay you from seeing My Brother’s Wife if you can find it. Most of the reviews make it seem like this was one of the worst films ever made. It really it is not the film is just a typical Golden Age melodrama. I would not go hunting like a maniac to see My Brother’s Wife though; this is basically a film to really look for if you are a fan of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor (especially since Taylor has his shirt off in one scene!!).